by Paolo Petroni
President of Italian Academy of Cuisine
An Academy with a big heart
The first earthquake on the 24th of August 2016 was immediately named ‘the Amatrice earthquake’, even though other, far less famous townships (Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto) were severely affected. The town of Amatrice was indeed known throughout the world as the birthplace of the famous Amatriciana pasta recipe. Solidarity flared up immediately among celebrity and run-of-the-mill chefs alike, as well as the many restaurateurs who donated to the Municipality of Amatrice a portion of all revenue gained from consumers ordering Amatriciana. The tremors were horrifying, but some structures had remained standing, such as the building housing the Amatrice Hotel Institute, which, though damaged, seemed salvageable. With less haste but more substance, the Academy decided on a more decisive and focused effort, associating its support with its Ecumenical Dinner last October. Sadly, the second major tremor of the 30th of October, felt as far as Venice, where the Academic Advisory Council was in session, delivered the coup de grâce to the towns initially struck, and extended the horror to the areas of Norcia and Macerata. Towns were reduced to rubble and their prospects of reconstruction are still uncertain, other than their high likelihood of dragging on for years. Accompanied by the Delegates of the stricken areas, we visited those regions to verify the list of names suggested as recipients of our aid. Twenty deserving names were selected among restaurants, small producers and breeders. Our fundraising exceeded our most optimistic expectations and our Academy’s big heart was able to amass the sum of 91,943 Euros, to which we will add the 10,000 Euros from the Orio Vergani Prize, destined to the Amatrice Hotel Institute, now transferred to Rieti where it will remain for goodness knows how long. Let us have no illusions: after the quakes of last October and in January of this year, who knows if any restaurants, and if so, how many, will ever be able to reopen in Amatrice and the other towns affected by the disaster? With the funds gathered by the Corriere della Sera newspaper and the TGLa7 news, a beautiful ‘Food Village’ will be built and populated with restaurants and shops, as designed by the architect Stefano Boeri. But 20% of the equipment will have to be financed by the retailers themselves (or so it seems, though the three Regions appear to have different policies regarding this), and therefore our support will be crucial for some of them. Our donations will particularly favour certain cattle and sheep breeders who have been unbelievably and shamefully abandoned with no shelter for their animals, who are dying in their thousands in the snow, unable to drink the frozen water or find any food. Our assistance, however small in comparison with the enormity of the disaster, will surely attain the goal of providing at least some of them with concrete and psychological aid. Unless exceptionally dire circumstances intervene, by February the Academy will deliver all the funds to its recipients in Amatrice, where they will gather in a marquee made available by the local Municipality. What we found on the 11th of January was a climate of despondency but considerable dignity and resolution to start anew. The seemingly endless succession of tremors during the past few days, combined with snow and a sense of abandonment, have dramatically heightened the urgency of the situation, such that the delivery of the resources gathered can in no wise be delayed.